Thursday, March 26, 2015

Cross Cultural Training?

It was not really in the plans, but for a little while we ended up inviting a Salvadoran mom and a couple of kids to live with us in a place where we were staying.  It was somewhat of an urgent situation, and one for which none of us was quite prepared.

Most people who know me also know that I am a tidy housekeeper.  OK, my kids might say I am a little obsessive.  It is true that as a Boy Scout leader I had the cleanest tent in camp, even with a dirt floor.  One of my secrets:  the throw rug.  No matter where I am staying, tent included, I put a throw rug at the door and that is where the shoes come off.  At home I actually keep a basket of guest slippers by the door (a custom borrowed from my daughter who spent some time living in messy Siberia).

So, back to El Salvador, where, of course, shoes come off at the door.  I have observed that this is a pretty strange custom for most Salvadorans.  It certainly was something new for the mom and her little ones who came to us from the most basic living situation.  Leaving those muddy or dusty shoes (depending on the season) on the throw rug makes a big difference in the amount of floor mopping required, and this point ultimately was not lost on the mom or the kids.  Whenever a knock hit the door, the kids would run quickly to welcome visitors with "come in, and take off your shoes!"

A few months ago, Mom and her kids found their own place to live.  It's way out in the countryside.  My husband and I went to visit.  After a long drive in the hills, the last few miles on rocky terrain that might not actually be called "roads", we arrived.  The little ones were super-excited, dancing around and giving us welcome hugs, eager to show us their new home.  Outside the door I noticed some little pink flip flops, boys' sneakers and women's slip-ons.  "Take off your shoes, " chirped the kids.  Mom stood by the pila in her slippers, laughing.

Later that night, we walked up to a cousin's house for supper.  Outside the front door, everyone paused to take off their shoes. "It makes cleaning the floors so much easier!" the cousin smiled.  The woman said she had thought it was strange when her cousin required everyone to remove their shoes at her house, but then the woman tried it.  Apparently now all the cousins and actually, most of the women in the community, use this custom.

My husband, who is sometimes critical of the clean freak with whom he lives, looked over at me, and I smirked back at him.  I spend quite a lot of time working with church groups and people in the US who are in partnership or companion relationships with people and churches across town or across the globe.  We talk a great deal about listening, learning, tasting, sharing.  We use the words like "accompaniment," "mutuality," and "cross-cultural training."  The idea is to build relationships in which we learn from one another and share and grow together.

I looked at my husband, sitting on a plastic chair in his stocking feet and said, "This is a whole new kind of cross-cultural training."

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Remembering Romero: We March for Peace

At our home church we gather on Monday through Thursday at 11:00 AM in the sanctuary to pray for peace.  We sing a little.  We read the assigned scripture texts for the day.  We read a reflection from the Book of Common Prayer.  We pray.  We pray corporately, we pray silently, we offer petitions and we conclude with the Lord's Prayer.  We pray about many things, but we especially call for prayers for peace.

This practice began a little less than a year ago, when yet another act of gun violence touched our city and our faith community.  As the church, we focus on prayer, on care for the victim's family and on advocacy to change a system which perpetuates injustice.  We look to the wisdom and action of faith heroes like the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Oscar Romero as we speak, as we march, as we call for action, as we work for change.

Several years ago, March 24th -- the date on which we remember the death and the life of MonseƱor Oscar Romero -- fell on Palm Sunday.  I was working at a suburban sister church to the urban church where I am currently a member, and with a great team of folks coordinated a Palm Sunday Peace March.  My middle school son pulled out his marching snare and led all the Sunday School kids and brave adults around the block in freezing cold temperatures, singing.  We carried a banner:   When the Power of Love overcomes the Love of Power, the World will know Peace.  We carried cardboard doves on sticks, with peace scriptures and pictures of our peace-heroes glued to the doves.  We carried salt.  We carried light (when the candles were not blowing out).  We marched around that block waving palms, honoring Romero and giving praise to Jesus, the one who brings peace.

Peace Scripture used on the Peace Doves 

 I'm not sure what kinds of seeds were planted in the hearts and minds of the children on that Palm Peace Sunday.  We can march for peace and the march itself can be a good and happy experience, even a learning experience; but how does the march impact who we are, what we say and what we do when we are not marching?  How does marching as a community lead us to live as a peaceful and just community?

As Christians, we believe that our job in the world is to grow peace by planting love.  We plant love with Sunday morning hugs, sack lunches for hungry children and after-school tutoring, with visits and warm meals.  We plant love by marching with grieving families in the streets, by bringing seeds of hate into the light, by nurturing forgiveness and by working for justice.  Romero said, "Peace is not the product of terror or fear.  Peace is not the silence of the cemeteries.  Peace is not the silent result of violent repression.  Peace is the generous, tranquil contribution of all to the good of all.  Peace is dynamism.  Peace is generosity.  It is right and it is duty."  

After that Palm Sunday Peace March, I folded up the banner and tucked it away, thinking we might use it again someday.  A few years ago, I borrowed it for an All Saints Peace march in the city.  Since then, it has seen more than a few marches and has become the backdrop for gatherings at our church.  When it shows up in a photo on Facebook or in the media, some of the kids (now adults) who painted it send me comments and ask questions and I wonder...what seeds were planted in the hearts and minds of the children as they marched for peace?

Thank you, Oscar Romero, for your light, your witness, your wisdom, your example.